Microsoft releases Checked C

The C programming language has been around since the 1970s and it’s been used to create a incredible amount of software. It’s guaranteed to be part of the software you’re using to view this regardless of what you’re using to view it with. But C has some serious drawbacks in that it’s incredibly easy to make serious mistakes that don’t seem obvious until the software is running (and possibly not all time).

But there are follow-on languages that build on C but add features that make some of these errors obvious. Microsoft has one called C# and it’s available for Windows developers to use as part of their Visual Studio developer environment. But lots of programmers, especially those working on open source, are still using regular old C. Recently, Microsoft Research developed Checked C which adds many of the features of C# into C without significantly changing how programmers work or requiring older code to be rewritten. They’ve released it as an open source project for use on Windows and Linux systems and welcome fixes and improvements.

In case you wonder why this is a big deal you need to know that much of the software running on the Internet is programmed in C and many of the security vulnerabilities that have been found and exploited arose from the kind of mistakes that C overlooks. Widespread use of something like Checked C could make a significant improvement in security for everyone.

How LinkedIn failed

How LinkedIn failed is a pretty good look into how the professional social network grew and evolved into something most people find annoying rather than useful.

For most professionals LinkedIn is something you have to be on but like a suit it’s not something you need very often. I really don’t know how Microsoft is going to change that even with their plans to integrate it into Office 365. But I’ll keep my profile, just like everyone else.

Tracking Down August Belmont Jr.’s Private NYC Subway Car, The Mineola

August Belmont Jr. founded the Interborough Rapid Transit subway line in NYC which became the IRT line and built the horse racing track which bears his name. As you’d pretty much expect, he had his own custom-built subway car that he used to travel to and from the track. When he died in 1924 it went out of use and has been moved around and stored in multiple places. In 2001 the NY Times reported that it still existed and was being kept at a trolley museum in Connecticut. Recently, Untapped Cities confirmed it was still there and was able to photograph the interior.

Why You Can’t Get a Ticket (to pretty much anything)

I tried to get tickets to Bruce Springsteen’s February show as a Christmas gift for my wife. Even though I hit Ticketmaster’s site on time, I could never get in and they sold out in minutes. Turns out I never even had a chance, at least not at listed price. It’s the same everywhere.

Amateur radio is thriving (and dying)

This is a focused, geeky, op-ed aimed at a particular audience. Feel free to skip if ham radio isn’t relevant.

I am an amateur radio guy, licensed as KC2TCK and there’s something bothering me. I’m hearing lots of good news about the number of folks with licenses in the US and those numbers are increasing. Is that true? It is, although I wouldn’t call the increase dramatic:

Total Amateur Radio Station Licenses

(by month by class)

Month

Extra

Advanced

General

Technician

Novice

ARS Total

Mar-16

140,699

47,239

172,510

365,993

10,694

737,135

Feb-16

140,283

47,554

172,464

365,059

10,785

736,145

Jan-16

139,991

47,844

172,443

363,885

10,860

735,023

Dec-15

139,901

48,155

172,603

363,806

10,940

735,405

Nov-15

139,515

48,272

172,239

362,580

10,988

733,594

Oct-15

139,309

48,631

172,276

361,564

11,104

732,884

Sep-15

139,062

48,796

172,141

360,784

11,191

731,974

Aug-15

138,718

48,947

171,929

359,735

11,281

730,610

Jul-15

138,453

49,202

172,007

359,443

11,349

730,454

New General Class Question Pool – July 1, 2015

From <http://ah0a.org/FCC/Licenses.html>

 

Please note the Advanced and Novice class licenses were deemed redundant in 2000 and are no longer issued. However, anyone with those licenses can continue as-is and are not required to upgrade.

Of particular note is the Technician class license. It is the entry level license and has both the largest number of license holders (over 2x the General class) as well as most of the growth. When someone says they just got their ham radio license, you can bet it’s a Technician license.

The Technician license grants holders pretty much full access to the bands above 50 MHz along with limited privileges in the 10 meter (28-29 MHz) band. As a result, Technicians are heavy users of the VHF and UHF bands (146 MHz/440 MHz). Equipment to use these bands is reasonably priced and easy to use. Most Technicians have at least a handheld radio and many also have mobile radios installed in their motor vehicles. Most of these radios are programmed to use repeaters, which greatly extend their range but in any case VHF/UHF is mostly a local radio service. So with the surging number of new hams you’d expect that they’d all be on the air as soon as their licenses arrived, chatting away on their local repeaters. And you’d be wrong.

At first I thought it was me. Maybe I didn’t have the most popular repeaters programmed into my radios. The last time I counted there were almost 100 amateur repeaters in the Greater Rochester area. But the reality is maybe a half-dozen of those repeaters get much traffic, the rest get almost none (the ARES/RACES repeater doesn’t count as it’s dedicated to emergency service work). Of those half-dozen, two are often connected to a very busy IRLP (Internet Radio Linking Protocol) node and most of the activity is not local. That leaves about four that are truly active. That’s 4% of the available repeaters.

But is Rochester an outlier? Massive cutbacks in the major local employers (Kodak and Xerox) certainly have thinned the ranks of local amateurs. But a recent poll in the May edition of QST says it’s not a local phenomenon. The question was “How active are the FM repeaters in your area?” Of the respondents, 31% they were regularly or occasionally active while 60% said they were “Pretty dead”.

So my question is simple, “Where are all these new Technician license holders if they’re not on their local repeaters?” I posted this question to Twitter and got very few answers. The best one came from @KD0SFY: “many hams don’t use repeaters: preppers often don’t, DX/DXCC, contesters, many hams work during the day, etc.” That makes sense, as far as it goes, but new Technicians aren’t likely to be DXers or contesters since they lack HF privileges. And preppers, people who actively prepare for the apocalypse (or equivalent), can’t possibly represent a significant number of new licensees. So when you net it out, the increasing numbers of Technicians are people who get their license and then never get involved in the hobby. Worse, they’re being joined by increasing numbers of people who used to be active, but have stopped for some reason (I’m deliberately ignoring those who upgrade their license to General and get involved in HF).

This should bother every amateur, regardless of license class or time in the hobby. I attended the Rochester Ham Fest on the past Saturday and the crowd overwhelming white, male and middle-aged. There’s a reason I added “(and dying)” to this post’s title. What’s going to happen in the next decade as many of those older hams die off? Sure, we’re adding younger folks but it’s nowhere near the replacement rate. Amateur radio numbers are quite possibly approaching a cliff. Once they begin to fall I don’t think they’ll recover. Ever. That is, unless we do something about it.

I’ve been thinking about some things that might change that, but I’ll put them in another post once I’ve had more time to think about it. Feel free to comment if you’d like.

How ‘Pet Sounds’ Invented the Modern Pop Album

Pet Sounds was released 50 years ago yesterday. Created by Brian Wilson in the studio while the rest of the Beach Boys were on tour, it totally changed how pop albums were made. No longer one or two hits plus filler songs, Pet Sounds was a complete story from start to finish. Every so-called “concept” album since follows the model Pet Sounds created in 1966.

If you buy it today, it comes with both a stereo and mono mix. While both are outstanding, the mono mix is what Brian Wilson intended for the album to be.

The Toast is closing July 1st

The wonderful The Toast site is “closing” July 1st. All the great writing from Mallory Ortberg, Nicole Cliffe and others will remain but it won’t be updated for the most part. Mallory has taken over as Dear Prudence on Slate and both of them are active on Twitter so you can still get your smart writing needs fulfilled.